Looking at construction’s future from the vantage point of “the bottom,” the question is not in what direction we’re heading, but how long will it take to get where we want to be. January was a strong month for the SWCA Plan Center. We are seeing not only an increase in projects, but also renewed interest from companies that left the bidding environment when margins were non-existent. The number of actively bidding jobs on our site increased from 120 to 192 projects during the month. We also saw a steady increase year-over-year in overall projects. In Clark County, the number of commercial permits in 2012 was flat (281) but valuation increased to $72 million, versus $67 million in 2011. The general trend for commercial projects in Clark County has been a relatively large number of smaller value projects. With a few exceptions, we see this trend continuing in 2013.
While there are currently a number public works projects bidding, we do see a gradual decline in the amount of public spending on construction locally. Statewide, we expect this trend to continue as funding becomes scarcer at the state and local levels. That said, a few key infrastructure projects may bode well for Clark County. The Discovery Corridor sewer capacity project is expected to start moving, providing not only some near-term public spending, but also a large amount of private investment potential to follow. Alliance Industrial Group is expected to break ground this summer in Ridgefield, and phase one of the Pioneer Street Rail Overpass Project is set to kick off. On the east side, the Port of Camas-Washougal is expected to continue with the development of the Steigerwald Commerce Center, along with a variety of planned modest improvements to its properties. The Port of Vancouver’s rail infrastructure improvement projects are already showing the benefits of increased construction activity and the city’s investment in waterfront access will provide some direct construction work this year and long-term private activity as well.
Overall, Clark County continues on a positive trend in terms of construction, but appears to still be trailing compared to regional activity levels. There are opportunities for improvements in the regulatory environment, particularly with stormwater regulations locally as well as workers compensation reform at the state level. Many of the mid-sized local projects that have been on the sidelines for the past few years may very well start to move this year. Game changers in the construction spending and jobs category like the Columbia River Crossing project are still in question and are not likely to be a factor this year. Absent that or a large employer locating (or expanding) here, we are likely to see a slow and steady crawl forward with some significant upswings in the regional Portland-metro market.
Mike Bomar is the executive director for the Southwest Washington Contractors Association, a construction trade association and plan center representing more than 340 businesses in Southwest Washington. He can be reached